Advice for Leaders About Coping with the Turnover Tsunami

Pick your favorite label: The Turnover Tsunami. The Great Resignation. The Great Departure. The Big Quit. We’re talking about a lot of people leaving or planning to leave their jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, resignations have not increased in the U.S. since a record high in April, but they haven’t eased up a whole lot either. Other reports indicate women are continuing to leave their jobs in greater numbers than men in what the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) coined a She-Cession.

Your organization may be trying to stop the floodgates or scrambling to prevent mass resignations, depending on variables like your industry, region, pre-pandemic talent management strategies, and hybrid work policies. Retaining and engaging talent is complicated. This blog can’t provide a magic pill, but it does offer food for thought as you sort through your options for building a workforce that thrives and delivers. And stays. 

Be part of the conversation

The Great Reflection preceded the Great Resignation. The events of the last 18+ months—furloughs, lockdown with (or without) family, health scares, funerals—caused people to step back and consider what’s really important to them. They’re still thinking about and talking about questions like these: Is this all there is? What do I want to do with my life? What’s my purpose? What are my options? Is my work working for my family and me?

Here are the questions that you need to be thinking about: Are your managers part of those conversations? Is your organization initiating dialogue about work and career growth? If you answered no, you’ll miss the chance to be part of the solution or explore win-win options. You’ll be left out of decisions. Employees may think the only way to change things is to move on. As leaders, we’ve all been there before, saying (when it’s already too late), “Wait! We can make this work. I didn’t know how you felt. Let’s talk about it.”

The time for talking is now. Earlier this year, we devoted an entire blog to the conversations managers need to have with employees. Share it with your managers. Engagement and career conversations should be top on the list of what you ask managers to do. Career growth, in particular, is worth discussing now, with an emphasis on growth. Our research consistently finds that intangibles can make the difference (e.g., meaningful work, growth and new experiences in role, challenge). For a list of questions managers can ask their team members, check out 4 Strategies for Creating a Culture of Career Growth (

Think twice about paying to keep people

Recent studies suggest that anywhere from 33% to 44% of the workforce is thinking about quitting. Those are scary numbers. Those same studies relate that compensation is a top driver, along with burnout and more flexible work conditions. First, don’t panic. Intent to leave doesn’t necessarily predict actual turnover. Use your own organization’s turnover metrics to guide your strategy.

If you are experiencing turnover and find that, like today’s headlines report, burnout and flexible working conditions are at play, reread tip #1 above. The more managers and employees talk, the greater the odds that they will explore areas of dissatisfaction and, together, identify ideas about how to rework work for the better.

So what about compensation? If you haven’t been paying people fairly for their time and talents, you know what you need to do. If you are thinking about increasing salaries to compete with the firms down the street, back up and focus on your organization’s engagement levels and engagement strategies.

Our research links intent to leave with lower levels of engagement. It also suggests that engaged employees stay because of what they give (they find meaning in their work), while the disengaged stay for what they get (a good comp package, comfortable job conditions, or job security). You don’t want employees who are staying because of money. If they are not finding meaning in their work, a raise won’t help them turn the emotional corner to experience higher levels of engagement. Worse, those employees can actually have a negative impact on the engagement of the people around them.

Said another way: Money is an attraction and retention driver, not an engagement driver. At the end of the day, you need to weather this storm with motivated, focused employees. If you missed Colleen Casey’s podcast on engagement in the hybrid workplace, you can check it out here.

About the Authors

Mary Ann Masarech

Mary Ann Masarech spent the first third of her career writing, designing, and marketing skills training for top-notch consulting firms. She acquired a broad base of instructional design and client experience building learning experiences in sales, negotiations, account management, customer service, selection interviewing and leadership skills. The programs she designed were all about the “how.” (When “X” happens, do “A, B, C.”) When she joined GP Strategies’ BlessingWhite division in 2000, Mary Ann began to explore worlds beyond skills: The internal workings of individual learners – expressed as personal values and goals, the puzzling workings of organizational culture, and the often complicated dynamics of trust and relationships at work. She quickly realized there was no going back. As Lead Consultant for BlessingWhite’s Engagement Practice, Mary Ann creates practical tools and strategies that clients worldwide apply to create successful businesses and thriving workplaces. Think of her approach as "research meets real world." She is passionate about great days at work – where individuals experience the highest levels of personal satisfaction, apply their skills to what matters most, and deliver their best work to drive their employers’ strategies. As lead consultant, she also works with senior HR and business leaders on how to take meaningful action on engagement survey results to drive organizational performance. She is co-author of The Engagement Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce (Wiley, Oct 2012), has written numerous research reports and articles, and is a well-regarded speaker on the leader’s role in engagement and building a culture of engagement. Mary Ann's commitment to meaningful lives and meaningful work extends beyond her day job. She is a founding member of the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, a not-for-profit that addresses food insecurity (serving 10,000 meals a year) and education of underserved adults and children. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She enjoys her mostly-empty nest with her husband, 2 cats and a dog, cooking, reading and running (not simultaneously) in her spare time.